On Sunday morning I finished the Leadville Trail 100 Run in 29 hours, 44 minutes, just 16 minutes under the cutoff. The race was incredibly difficult but earning the buckle was tremendously rewarding.
I thought I would writeup my top tips, based on my experience this weekend.
The race is extraordinarily tough. The distance, altitude, and rough course leave little room for mistakes. I guarantee that you will need to dig deep — probably deeper than you’ve ever done before.
What’s more, it’s not enough to be tough and fit. You also need to be well prepared and strategic. Furthermore, you’ll need support from friends.
Before you run the race, do yourself a favor and get some running experience at the altitude. A good rule of thumb is that you’ll run 20% slower up in that thin air. Think about running a 4 hour marathon near your home. Sure, it’s not torture, but it’s a solid workout. In Leadville, on smooth roads, you’ll run nearly an hour slower. Add in single track trails with hills, and take off more time.
I talked to a guy on the plane who had to drop out at mile 40. He said he recently ran a 100 mile race at sea level in 29 hours. Without knowing anything, I could guarantee he had no hope of finishing LT 100.
Let’s assume you’re sufficiently physically fit and mentally tough to finish the race. That’s worthless unless you have a tested nutrition plan. You need to consume a serious amount of calories and water (but not too much water) during the race. Dr. John Hill jokes that the race is “an eating contest with some running mixed in,” and he’s right.
When you train, go for some long runs while using your nutrition plan. Also, consider two scenarios: 1) What’s the most optimal form of nutrition that you can consume, regardless of how nasty it tastes (think gels, etc)? 2) When you feel like you’re at death’s door, what can you still eat and drink? You’ll want to start with the first scenario, and you’ll likely be forced to switch to the second one.
You’ll be running with stretches of roughly 3 hours between aid stations. You must be totally comfortable carrying water, food, and extra clothing over that distance. You also need to be experienced running at night.
The course goes through extremes. On even the most peaceful race day you’ll run both in dry, blazing heat and damp, near-freezing temperatures. You’ll be crossing water before and after Hope Pass. What’s more, the weather can turn on a dime. You could easily be hit with hail or heavy rain.
Be prepared for the worse. Hypothermia is a severe threat. If you don’t have the right clothing at the right time, you will break (or worse).
Finally, consider trekking poles. I could not have finished the race without them.
You truly have to pace yourself. Most people go out too fast. The race starts down hill, which tends to suck runners in to a faster pace, and they burn up. Do not start fast.
On the other hand, it’s easy to go too slow! The earlier cutoff times are not true cutoff times. If you were to reach May Queen just under the cutoff, then you would have no hope of finishing. Similarly, the cutoff at Winfield is 14 hours. If you get there in 14 hours, you’re toast. Even 13 hours is cutting it very close.
You also cannot waste time in aid stations. There are 13 stops (including the minor stops of Elbert and Half Pipe). Every minute spent there is 13 minutes. If you only spend 4 minutes at each one, that adds up to nearly an hour! It’s easy to waste time if you’re not extremely organized with your crew and your drop bags.
Help From Friends
You can’t do this race alone. I don’t care how tough you are. To finish, you need a solid crew and you also need pacers. The pacer will not only help you work through doldrums, but he or she can also mule gear. As you get tired, it’s unbelievably helpful to have your crew carry your food and water.
What’s more, the entire town of Leadville wants you to finish. The volunteers at the race want you to finish. If you need something, ask for it. Just shout out. Need a coat? Ask. Pacer? Ask. Need to dispose of some food trash? Hand it to somebody. You cannot believe the level of support and empathy that you’ll receive.
Most importantly, do not quit. I was close to missing some cutoffs, and I felt like absolute hell at times, but I never considered quitting. Without burning out, I pushed hard. I figured either the clock would reap me or I’d finish. Fortunately for me, and thanks to tremendous support, I finished. And it felt great.
Good luck to you.